Carolina Agurto is a 25 year-old native to Cauquenes (two hours outside the city of Chilian). In college she studied Social Work, because “that’s what I felt I was meant to do” she explains. "For me there was no other carreer."
Carolina has been a loan officer in Fondo Esperanza since 2011, and although she admits the work is tiring, she loves it, “no other position allows you to spend this much time in the field,” she says. “Getting to know our borrowers and building community is what this job is about.”
Carolina works 50+ hours a week and carries a loan portfolio of up to 343 borrowers, all of whom seek her leadership and guidance. Nevertheless, she offers her extra time and assistance to assure her borrowers have every possible opportunity at success.
One of Carolina’s community banks, named “2012” has been receiving group loans from Fondo Esperanza for more than a year. However, in their current loan cycle, three of the 21 group members are in “critical defaulting status” which means it is unlikely that they will payback their portion of the group loan.
Since all members of the group loan have shared responsibility, if one member is unable or unwilling to repay, other members must step in to cover his or her debt.
Therefore, in order make up for these unmade payments, Carolina suggests that the group raise the funds by making and selling empanadas over the weekend. However, come Sunday, only three members show up to participate—That’s when Carolina steps in.
Carolina's up by 8am coordinating the operation: She calls to remind the absent members, collects the group's funds to buy the missing ingredients (even chipping in a bit of her own money) and stops by the market to pick up ground beef and olives.
By 10am, Carolina, myself and borrowers Pamela, Ana and Aeline are gathered in Aeline's kitchen, ready to get started.
In a giant bowl, Aeline begins by mixing the dough--her own perfected recipe of lard, flour, sugar and a cup of white wine. Meanwhile, the empanada filling of ground beef, white onion and oregano, simmers on the stove behind her.
Carolina get’s to work kneading the dough and takes the opportunity to ask the women about their businesses, their families and about other borrowers who pertain to the same communal bank.
Once the dough has been kneaded, flattened and cut into a circle, a handful of the ground beef filling, a slice of hard boiled egg and a single olive is places on top.
As I struggle to fold the dough into the uniform crescent shape, the others start laughing. Pamela shows me the trick, “if you fold it at an angle,” she says. “It makes the empanada look bigger.”
Next Aeline places the empandas in her commercial strength oven--which she bought for her restaurant thanks to a loan from Fondo Esperanza.
Throughout the afternoon we move through the same steps over and over again--kneading the dough, filling and folding the empanadas and finally shoveling them into the oven. Meanwhile our conversations shift from secret empanada recipes, to bets on whose grandkid is maybe getting married next, to which one of the sisters, Pamela or Aeline, had more boyfriends in high school.
By the time four o’clock rolls around we've made nearly 150 empanadas and the ladies of Communal Bank 2012 have fed me at least three.
Not only has this day had a profound impact on my stomach, it has also helped me to understand that the most important service a loan officer can provide is not necessarily a line of credit, but thier trust and support.
For Ana, Pamela and Aeline this may have been just another batch of empanadas, as golden and delicious as the empanadas they make all week for their families or for their business, but they won’t forget the time their loan officer, Carolina, gave her Sunday to help assure that Communal Bank, 2012 made it through 2013.
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As a recent graduate from Mills College, with a BA in Spanish, Latin American Studies and a minor in Journalism, Esther is hoping the Kiva Fellowship will utilize her skills and grant a real world application of her studies. A previous Public Relations intern at Kiva's San Francisco headquarters, Esther is hoping to gather valuable content and story material while out in the field. But most importantly, she's pleased to continue her contribution to such a remarkable organization.